President Joseph Biden on Oct. 7, 2022, announced a mass pardon for those convicted of a federal crime for simple possession of marijuana — about 6,500 people.
Biden’s fulfillment of a 2020 campaign promise was seen as an attempt to redress harsh punishments for drug-related crimes that disproportionately impact people of color. Black people are 3.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite similar usage rates, according to an analysis conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Because of the racial disparities in how marijuana possession is prosecuted, The Well asked civil rights expert Theodore M. Shaw to answer questions related to the recent mass pardon. Shaw is the director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights and is the Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law at the School of Law.
Reflecting on the importance of this mass pardon from a civil rights perspective, Shaw commented, “Some statistics have indicated that white people may even use marijuana and other drugs in slightly higher proportions than Black people, but the criminal justice apparatus isn’t put into effect when it comes to those kinds of violations for white people as often or to the same degree.”